When James Maguire and his young son Gavin attended Rutgers Football’s Fan Appreciation Day on August 15, tucked under James’ arm was a copy of the Bergen Record. James had a mission: he planned to get the players to autograph his copy of the paper as a gift to his friend and Rutgers supporter Frank Bodino.
Rutgers Superfan Frank Bodino has had a rough go lately. Frank, who lives in Manalapan, has been a long-time superfan of all Rutgers sports, but particularly Scarlet Knight football.
However, Frank was facing a life-altering crisis.
You see, time was running out on Frank. Twenty years ago, Frank had received a heart transplant, getting the heart of a 16-year old girl who was killed in a traffic accident. Her life-saving gift of organ transplant had given back Frank his life. However, the average life-expectancy of a transplant was 12 years, and now 20 years later, Frank’s transplanted organs were failing.
Worse, Frank was at an age (70) where many hospitals refuse to accept patients for transplants. However, Mt. Sinai Hospital looked beyond Frank’s chronological age, and saw a man who had done all he was supposed to do, took his medications religiously, and was a vocal advocate for organ donation. Frank was accepted by Mt. Sinai and put on a list for transplants.
While Frank had to stay close to Manhattan, that didn’t stop him from traveling to Piscataway for his beloved Scarlet Knights. I had an opportunity to speak with him at the Spring Game this past April, and while he looked tired and was very soft-spoken, he was very optimistic about being selected. I remember feeling less optimistic than he did.
Finally on July 31, the call came, and Frank hurried to Manhattan and received his life-saving double transplant, as he now needed a new kidney as well as a new heart. As you would expect from someone so positive and upbeat, he came through the operation like a champ!
Now remember, Frank is a Rutgers Superfan. So, everyone on his floor knew he was a Rutgers fan, not only by his stories, but the fact that his ever-present Block R red baseball cap, and the Block R on his wall made it ‘Rutgers Central’ on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
After Frank’s surgery, his story generated a lot of interest, including Lindy Washburn, health reporter for the Bergen Record, and its online arm, NorthJersey.com. Lindy wrote a story for the Record detailing Frank’s story and is worth the read. The editors must have agreed, as it was the top story on the front page the day it appeared.
Soon after his operation, Frank received get-well cards from Head Coach Chris Ash, and Coach Rick Mantz, Director of High School Relations. Both were extremely valued by Frank. But they didn’t compare to his next gift.
Enter James Maguire, and his visit to the stadium on Fan Appreciation Day. James is another huge fan of Rutgers sports, and knew of Frank’s fight. James knew Frank from their interactions over the years at different events. As James said, “The thing is with Frank, I go to football and wrestling and Frank is always there. I went this year to the Somerset Patriots Rutgers Night (on July 1) and Frank was there. I go to a lot of events, and Frank is always there.”
James patiently stood in line and let Coach Ash know he wanted to have Frank’s article autographed by the Coach and players. Coach Ash remembered Frank’s operation, and asked how he was doing. Coach Ash and 22 of the players on the team signed the article. After he got home, James called Frank and jokingly said, “I have something for you in the mail that I promise won’t explode.”
When it arrived, Frank said, “I took out the paper, I got choked up. So nice of the guys to do it.” Valerie Lombardo, Frank’s long-time companion, sent a text to James, “You did a great thing, it really meant a lot to him.”
I spoke with Frank on Friday, and he is a different man. His voice is strong, you can almost feel the energy he now exudes. As James Maguire said, “Over the past year it had been taking a toll on him. When I last called, I told him, ‘You sound like you could run through a wall!’
When I asked him whether he planned to get to any games this season, his response was instantaneous. He plans to join the crowd at The Yard at College Avenue, the new apartment complex on College Avenue which was the previous home of the Grease Trucks. He wants to watch the game with fans on the 12’x30’ high definition video screen which has been installed facing the open space in front of the new housing unit. It is planned to be a big ol’ Rutgers viewing party on September 3 to watch the Scarlet Knights take on the Washington Huskies, and Frank plans to be in on the action.
He also “without a doubt” plans to attend the home games this season, as usual. Remember, the first home game will be just a little more than two months after his dual transplant operation. Have I mentioned that Frank is a Superfan?
I asked Frank if there is anything he’d like me to share, and he was unhesitating in his response. He encourages everyone to become an organ donor, and give the gift of life to someone who can get a second (or like Frank, a third) chance at life. It is an easy thing to do, and here’s some info for organ donation in New Jersey. Each state has its own relatively easy process, so if you’re living outside NJ, it is simple there, too. Do it today!